I can’t believe it’s already been one year since I quit my job to become a freelancer! This year has had its ups and downs with the downs far outnumbering the ups. But I’m getting back on my feet and I’m continuing on, even though I’ve failed repeatedly as a freelancer and lost my biggest client.
First year as a freelancer
Let’s dive in, shall we?
If you’ve followed my freelancing story from the beginning, you’ll know that I didn’t exactly intend on becoming a freelancer; I was just trying to leave a toxic job and there weren’t any good 9-5 jobs, and I happened upon a good freelancing job (you can read that entire story on I Quit My Job and 7 Honest Things I’ve Learned About Being a Freelancer). Even though it made my schedule a little crazy, I really enjoyed the work I was doing. The job was with an online magazine that I had been writing for since I graduated college, and I was diving into their anayltics to come up with strategies to help them reach the right audience and grow. It then turned into taking over their social media accounts to implement the strategies. I was basically working full time for them (plus writing a few articles a month), and I had a couple other clients that I did some work for on the side. I was making more money than I had ever before, and things were going pretty well.
So everything was going great until December. The company I was working with decided to change directions and shut down the website I was working with. So not only was I losing my main source of income with my freelance job, I was losing my backup writing income. Overnight, I lost 80% of my income as a freelancer.
I was devastated. I was only 6 months into freelancing and I was already losing my biggest client and main source of income. Even though it wasn’t my fault at all (I had helped them almost double their traffic in a few months), I still blamed myself. To make matters worse, I was in the process of applying for graduate school, and I was paying over $1,000 in applications alone, plus I had signed up to take an Old Norse graduate class in New York City for the spring.
Thankfully around that time, I picked up another client with an opera company. It wasn’t as many hours as the online magazine, but it was enough to tide me over. The hours changed every week depending on what they needed so it was more of your typical freelancing job, but I was enjoying it. I just needed more clients to really start making a profit again. And because of the opera company’s schedule of events, things started really dying down in February and March, and I was working fewer and fewer hours again.
The worst month ever
Things really hit rock bottom for me in March. Someone in my life had health problems, and I was mentally checked out of my business for about a month. It’s a long story and I won’t go into any details, but it wasn’t an easy month, to say the least.
I was struggling financially and emotionally, I spent a lot of time in the hospital and a couple of weeks away from home to be with this person, and I really just couldn’t focus on growing my business and finding new clients.
I was a mess.
And it didn’t help that to make ends meet, I took on a new client that wasn’t a good fit and the work wasn’t what I was interested in at all, so it added more stress and frustration to my already crazy month. I was so desperate for work and money that I started applying for freelance work on job websites, and it was a complete waste of time and I never heard back from anyone (I’ve been learning more and more that finding jobs is about who you know, not what you know). I was so desperate to make money that I completely lost direction with my business.
Around this time, I really hit a wall with my blog. I changed the name in January to better fit what I was writing about now, but even that didn’t help. Traffic wasn’t going up (it was actually going down some months) and no matter what new strategy I tried, nothing helped. My Instagram followers weren’t going up either, even though I’ve been posting the best photos I’ve ever taken.
I even launched a store to sell my travel photos on my blog, and it was a complete flop. I only sold two photos, and they were to my best friend. These things weren’t nearly as stressful or emotionally draining as everything else going on in my life, but they were still frustrating. Basically, nothing was going right for me.
April started off pretty much the same as March (though not quite as emotional), but there were some highlights, especially with my photography work. The PHLbloggers annual conference happened, and I got to take the headshots of all the attendees (plus the conference is always amazing). I did some food photography for a local catering company, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I also joined the Soloist Collective, a group for entrepreneurs and soloists that started in NYC and recently came down to Philly. It was great connecting with other soloists, and I started working for a girl from that group who started a pet care company, which would actually influence the direction my business is now going.
In May, I picked up a new travel blogger client who actually found my business information through my blog (which was really exciting for me), and I started doing more of the work I love. After working with her and the pet care company, I finally had a mental breakthrough about what I should be doing with my business and I started making plans to implement my new ventures.
The end of the month was hectic, but for good things! My boyfriend graduated from medical school, and we took a trip to Copenhagen, where we first met over 5 years ago.
I finally figured things out
Once we got back from Denmark, I hit the ground running, and I launched a website for my business! The brand new Julia Renee Consulting is the one stop shop for all your website needs. Remember how I said I had a mental breakthrough? After working with the pet care company and travel blogger, I finally figured out what my job title is- website consultant. It even goes back to when I first started working with the online magazine. I was going through their analytics to find things they could improve on and coming up with new strategies to reach their target audience.
I continued doing that work for a few other clients without really realizing what I was doing, and once I started doing more things like SEO optimization, website management, and marketing strategy for the pet care company and travel blogger, I realized that anayltics was my strong suit. I am VERY left brained and logical (even with my photography!), but I was never interested in math or science so I didn’t know what jobs I could do with my left brain. Being a website consultant allows me to analyze problems, come up with solutions, and implement new strategies, which I LOVE.
I’m still doing content writing and social media, but being a website consultant and manager gives me something different to offer my clients. I’m also working exclusively with small businesses. It may not pay super well, but I’m really enjoying working with people who are passionate about their work and are eager to hear my advice. Since I have a small business myself, I know what it’s like to have to work within my budget and not be able to pay for things that could really help, so I keep my prices low to give small businesses the opportunity to fix their website problems and grow without breaking the bank (and I’m completely transparent about my prices on my website).
And now that some of the craziness of creating my website has died down, I’m also going to focus on doing more photography! If you need a headshot or photoshoot in Philadelphia, let me know!
So after failing as a freelancer and struggling to figure things out, why am I still a freelancer?
Honestly, I thought about going back to an office job full time. I even applied to some office jobs. But I never heard back from the ones I applied for, even if I was absolutely perfect for the job (seriously, most of the time it’s who you know, not what you know).
I also love the flexibility of being a freelancer. Sure, I have to catch up on work in the evenings or on weekends sometimes, but I still prefer that over having a strict 9-5 office job. I have more freedom to travel, and with my family so spread out, I don’t have to stress out about not having enough vacation days to visit them for a week at Christmas and I don’t have to miss graduations and other celebrations. I also get to do fun things during the work day, like volunteer at the American Swedish Historical Museum!
I’m also going to graduate school full time in the fall (going to Villanova!), and I wanted to have my flexible freelance schedule to better balance work and school. And since I can work anywhere in the world, I’m going back to Denmark for a month this summer to take a class! (And classes in Denmark are cheaper than the U.S., even with flights and housing!) So even if I’m currently making less money as a freelancer than I would in an office job, having a flexible schedule for school and travel and even hanging out with my pup are worth more to me.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned my first year as a freelancer that put things in a new perspective or helped my grow my business
-Clients “ghosting” is a real thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a call or in person meeting with someone, thought it went amazing, and then I never heard from them again! This was a hard lesson for me because I would get really excited to work with someone and already start strategizing for them, and then they would fall off the face of the earth with no warning. It’s even more awkward when someone ghosts you and then you run into them at networking events. It’s fine if someone decides they don’t want to work with me or they realize they don’t have the budget, but it’s really frustrating when they completely ignore me!
-It really is who you know, not what you know. This has been the most frustrating lesson of my career. I applied for over 200 jobs that I was more than qualified for right out of college, and I finally got… an internship (and I’m not trying to brag; objectively speaking, I was well suited for those jobs with my qualifications and experience). And I’m not the only person who’s learned this lesson- I keep hearing stories from friends and acquaintances about their struggles to get work and how they see people hired for jobs they’re not qualified for just because that person has a connection in the company.
I moved to Philadelphia where the only person I knew was my boyfriend (and he doesn’t really have any businessy connections because he’s in the medical field), so I’ve been trying my best to connect with people at networking events but it’s really hard. And growing my business isn’t the only reason I network; I also want to make friends because I work by myself, and it would be nice to hang out with people in similar fields who also have weird working hours. So if you’re struggling to find a job or new clients, try to see if you can find connections rather than just apply for jobs. And if you’re in Philly and want a new friend or business bud, let me know!
-Get inspired. I’m not really one to do journaling or anything feelings related (super left brained here), which is what I see a lot of in Facebook groups or webinars, and it wasn’t doing anything for me. If it helps you, that’s great! It just isn’t for me. I’m more interested in strategy and getting into the nitty-gritty of business, so I started listening to more business podcasts that inspired me and gave me new ideas for my business.
So far, my favorites are The Kate Show (she focuses on marketing for interior designers, but most of her episodes can apply to any business), Creative Empire Podcast (interview style and great for any creative business), Simple Pin Podcast (she has so many helpful tips for Pinterest that any business or blogger can use), and Theory of Content (again, just great ideas for any business). Not only did these podcasts give me ideas for myself, they’ve also helped me come up with new ideas for my clients to help their businesses grow. So it’s a win-win! My blogger friend Cassandra also started a Facebook group called Your Soulful Branding, which has been great for bouncing ideas off people and watching their webinars.
-Put yourself out there. This is probably the scariest lesson, but also the most rewarding. I’m very active in three networking/community groups in Philadelphia- PHLbloggers, Rising Tide Society, and the Soloist Collective (the Rising Tide Society is national with groups all over the country, and the Soloist Collective is in NYC and Philly and they’re expanding if you’re interested in joining either). I knew no one in the Soloist Collective before joining a few months ago, and it’s been such a helpful group to be in! I told you I’ve already gotten some business from it, and it’s great for meeting up with other soloists in my area (all the chapters are location specific, so you never have to go far for a meeting and everyone lives close by). If you’re an introvert or just hate networking, I’m right there with you. I get super nervous, and at my first ever networking event, I was so bad at it that a nun had to rescue me, no joke. So if I can do it, you can, too.
I’ve been in my local Rising Tide Society group for a little over a year so I’m more comfortable now that I know some of the people, but recently I tackled something even more nerve wracking- public speaking. I was asked to do a presentation for the group about SEO best practices, so I wrote up a guide for everyone and talked for almost 2 hours. My stomach was in knots and I was too nervous to eat dinner before, but it actually went really well! AND I got a two new clients from it! Even though it was terrifying talking in front of people (and it was only like 15 people), I really enjoyed being able to help people with their business and answer all their questions. And it validated to me that I am an expert in my field and can help small businesses grow (because impostor syndrome can really get you down sometimes).
So am I in a good place now?
Not yet! I’m still not making nearly as much money as I was at this point last year, so I still have a ways to go to really be financially stable again. I spent a lot of time building my new website, so now that it’s done, I can focus on taking on more clients and growing my business. But at least right now I’m working with clients that I love and doing work that I love, so that counts for something.